This month we share a conversation we had with three dynamic business owners who reveal some thought-provoking insights about being a woman leader today. All are in the 2014 W100 and have achieved remarkable success. They are also TEC Canada members. Professor, Entrepreneur of the Year Awards finalist and CEO Liz Scott launched Organizational Solutions in 2003. President and CEO of Fifth Story (News Canada Inc.) and philanthropist Ruth Douglas has 30 years of media experience. Saskatchewan’s own Rachel Mielke launched Hillberg & Berk in 2007; her artisanal jewellery line is one of the most successful in Canada and is worn by celebrities and even by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. These three committed entrepreneurs may work in very different industries but they share a surprising amount in common.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A BUSINESS LEADER/ENTREPRENEUR?
RACHEL MIELKE: I enjoy many things about being an entrepreneur but it’s always been very important for me to control my own destiny and positively impact the world through my business. Hillberg & Berk is committed to empowering women through the success of our brand and as such has contributed over $200,000 in product and financial contributions to organizations that support women.
LIZ SCOTT: The exciting part is to lead a team and get things done. I have a PhD, which deals with theory but I translate that into practice and bring it into the real world. We manage disability claims. We tell clients that we don’t transact claims we help people – to get the right treatment and to get well. And in doing so we save them a lot of money.
RUTH DOUGLAS: I would encourage any young person to be an entrepreneur – it’s the only way to be in charge of your life and your career. You can make things happen and write your own ticket.
RUTH AND LIZ, YOU’VE BEEN IN THE BUSINESS WORLD LONGER THAN RACHEL. HAVE YOU SEEN CHANGES IN TERMS OF WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A WOMAN LEADER?
LIZ SCOTT: I have seen incredible change but the old boys’ clubs die hard. For example, we may still lose some contracts because I’m not a man. There has been a positive influence through the new generation of business school graduates being evenly distributed between men and women. Having said that, a lot has to do with the mind-set of being an entrepreneur. You can choose to see things as roadblocks or you can choose to move forward.
RUTH DOUGLAS: Being in Canada’s Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs is wonderful for my company, but my feeling is I would be happy if that didn’t have to exist anymore. I don’t think that we should be looking at women succeeding versus men succeeding – it’s a matter of being the best possible person for the job. So, when they don’t have to single us out that will be a good thing.
DO YOU THINK WOMEN AND MEN HAVE DIFFERENT LEADERSHIP STYLES?
RUTH DOUGLAS: Just being in a TEC group I can see that everyone has a very different style, male or female. The three women in my group all have different styles. I do feel that women are better listeners, though I think young entrepreneurial guys have become good listeners as well.
LIZ SCOTT: I think women in general tend to have a more collaborative style although this approach has begun to show itself in some of our male leaders. Women are also more likely to be good at multi-tasking.
RACHEL MIELKE: We have a culture in our company that is quite unusual. Our staff and management team is made up entirely of women. It was unintentional but it has created a very cool culture that is flexible and adaptable. I wouldn’t paint all women with the same brush but I know for myself I approach leadership and management decisions from a holistic perspective.
ANY ADVICE FOR UP-AND-COMING WOMEN LEADERS?
LIZ SCOTT: Don’t compromise your values or beliefs. I think it’s something female entrepreneurs in particular need to hear – if you believe in something stand up for it and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be a success.
RACHEL MIELKE: If I was to look back and give myself advice it would be to not second guess myself so much in the beginning. Dream big, don’t take no for an answer and don’t undervalue yourself.
RUTH DOUGLAS: Women often have two full-time jobs to nurture – the business and a family – and usually something has to give. Even though at the beginning I didn’t have much money I built a team of people at my business and at my home. I give that advice to young women all the time.
This interview has been edited and condensed for purposes of this article.